More than Presents Under the Tree

gifts under the tree

Three years ago in December, I wrote a blog entitled Avoiding the Plague of Materialism. You can read it here. This year as it gets closer to Christmas I am still aware of many of the same things, and am trying to pass on to my children the importance and blessing of giving to others, instead of focusing on all that they are going to receive. We really don’t want our children to see the celebration of the birth of Jesus as little more than presents under the tree. It is SO much more than this, but the commercialization of Christmas makes it tricky for this I want attitude to stay away from our homes doesn’t it? It means that we have to be so intentional as we live out our lives as Christ followers.

This year we have had the opportunity to purchase gifts for children overseas and for children in our community, and because of this we are thankful that we have been able to show our kids ways in which we can look to meet the needs of others, instead of focusing on ourselves and our wants. As they grow older, we will continue to watch for age appropriate ways to serve as a family that will broaden the awareness that our girls have of the needs around them – not only physical needs, but also spiritual needs.

My hope is that this year as our girls open up their simple gifts which we thoughtfully picked out for them, that they will be thankful. That each year as they mature, that they will grow in awareness and understanding of the responsibility as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, to care for our neighbours in the third world. That they will be aware of how many opportunities they are given in this country, and that they will not take their life for granted. That they will have an eternal perspective on life as they live out Christ’s command to care for the orphans and the widows.

May we teach our children with wisdom and joy this Christmas season.

Karen

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25 4 & 5

 

Shampoo Free and Loving It!*

*Update, May 2013: since writing this post I have gone back to regular shampoo. Although this baking soda/cider vinegar combo worked great for a couple of months, I had to discontinue due to an unhappy scalp. While my hair remained healthy and clean, my scalp became very dry and I began to have dandruff for the first time in my life. I have since found a new recipe for shampoo that includes coconut milk, and will give that a try in the near future.*

About a decade ago I tried to go shampoo free for a couple of reasons:

1) To avoid some unhealthy chemicals that are in most shampoos
2) To allow the natural oils to regulate in my hair and eliminate or lesson the use of product in my hair

At that time I stopped using shampoo altogether and just washed my hair with hot water. This lasted a couple of weeks and resulted in some pretty yucky looking hair. Needless to say, I shampooed.

Fastforward to three weeks ago, when once again I decided to ditch the shampoo. This time I had an alternate plan though, and it has made all the difference! This alternate plan is so simple that all it involves is baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

homemade shampoo and conditioner

Here are the supplies: For the cleanser, I add 1 Tbsp of baking soda to 1 cup of water and shake until the baking soda dissolves. For the clarifier, I use 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar added to 1 cup of water.
So here’s how it works: After my hair is thoroughly wet, I use about half of the baking soda mixture squirting it directly onto my scalp, and then massaging it into my scalp for a couple of minutes and then thoroughly rinsing it out. Next I use my apple cider vinegar mixture to restore the pH balance to my hair. I apply this just to the ends of my hair and avoid the scalp. I work it in for a few seconds and then rinse (I got the recipe from the book “Organized Simplicity” by Tsh Oxenreider – a great book with lots of fantastic ideas. Tsh also has a website: www.simplemom.net).

The result? For the first week I wasn’t using enough of the baking soda mixture and I experienced some greasiness. After adjusting the amount of mixture I use to approximately half of the bottle per wash (every 2 or 3 days – when I shower more than this I just wash with hot water) I ended up with clean hair with no grease at all. I love it! And, I am using less product than I did when using shampoo since my natural oils aren’t getting stripped each time I wash my hair. I have also been using it to wash the kids hair, and their hair is nice and clean with the only drawback being that there are a few more tangles to brush out than when using a conditioner in their hair (I need to look up a natural detangler recipe).

To make this really simple, I just keep a box of baking soda, a tablespoon, and a funnel under the bathroom sink so that I can mix up a bottle of cleanser really quickly whenever I need it. It takes quite a lot longer to go through the clarifier, so it’s no big deal to go down to the kitchen to refill that.

What do I love about going shampoo free? Not only am I exposing my body to less chemicals, I am also using less product in my hair to control my head of curls, I have nice clean hair, and I’m saving money! I love simplifying.

School Lunch Ideas – Installment #3 Guacamole!

I can still remember my attempt at making guacamole when I returned home after a three month stay in Guatemala. I fell in love with guacamole while I was there, and my first attempt to create that yumminess failed miserably! I had the recipe from my host mom in Guatemala which was so good, but my problem was that I was so unfamiliar with using avocados that I attempted to make guacamole with avocados that were rock hard…. oops. Somehow I was unable to mash those babies up. I was determined to master the art of guacamole making, so I found out how to tell when an avocado was ripe: it needs to feel slightly soft to the touch when you apply a small amount of pressure (you can buy them when they are hard and just let them ripen up at room temperature which usually takes 2-3 days).

Avocados are a super food. They have a large amount of good monounsaturated fat, which has actually been shown in a preliminary study to lower blood cholesterol levels. Avocados have more potassium than bananas, and are rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamin E and vitamin K. And to boot, they are high in fiber! (Wikipedia). This is a seriously nutritious food to pack in your kids school lunches, and it’s a hit with my kiddos – they can’t get enough of this dip!

This isn’t the exact recipe that I was given from my host mom – I simplified it a bit, but go ahead and be creative!

guacamole ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guacamole

  • 5 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • Juice of two limes
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Optional: diced tomatoes, cilantro, finely diced onion, crushed garlic
  1. Mash up avocados until they are nice and creamy.
  2. Add other ingredients and stir – Voila!

guacamole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This doesn’t last overly long without getting brown, but if you make a quick batch in the morning and pack it in a container for lunch, it will still be awesome when eaten that day. My kids like to take this to school as a sandwich alternative with some corn chips or rice crackers to dip into it. It is also so yummy as a topping on tacos, fajitas and burgers. I hope you enjoy this healthy school lunch idea!

eating guacamole

Creative Parenting

Amid summer days that have had both highs and lows, and parenting moments that have been amazing as well as frustrating and exasperating, I feel like my parenting has had some creative moments that I thought I might share.

Creative Parenting Moment #1

I LOVE fabric, and I love to just look at fabric and imagine what I might create with a piece of cloth that has a beautiful pattern on it. As you can imagine, it doesn’t work very well to have 3 children under the age of 6 running around the fabric store and whining that I am taking too long, all while I try to look at fabric, calculate expenses and envision what I might create. Distracting doesn’t begin to explain it. I have had one particularly terrible experience in the past with the kiddos along that has caused me to normally go to the fabric store alone. This past week I was in the city with the kids along already, and needed to make a stop in order to avoid 2 extra hours of driving.

Just the mention of the fabric store caused whining to ensue (why do kids whine like that????), which almost made me turn around until I had an idea – perhaps even a brilliant idea (can I say that?). We parked in the parking lot and I looked at them with my most excited face and told them that we were going to have a scavenger hunt adventure in the fabric store, to which they were delighted! Inwardly I rejoiced. I found a scrap of paper in the car and immediately began to scribble a long list of things they had to find while we were looking at fabric: “Owls, polka dots, trains, zig zags, hearts, flowers, cars, rainbows…..”.

I was able to get all that I wanted to accomplished, and they walked with me intently looking at fabric and getting excited as they crossed off each item that they found (I was very thankful that my oldest daughter is a good reader and could head this up without my help with the list). We left the fabric store happy. All of us! This was a small miracle.

Creative Parenting Moment #2

The hot toy item this past week has been the basketball. Practicing to dribble the ball has become the pastime of the older two, who are definitely improving their dribbling skills. The other day we were outside and both older girls wanted the ball at the same time… Everyone was getting upset when I had the idea of setting up an activity rotation! We got out the walking blocks and they took turns dribbling and walking on the walking blocks for about half an hour until we were all hot and needed to go in to cool off and get some water. This would be fun to do with a whole bunch of activities, and a bigger group of kids too.

Creative Parenting Moment #3

We went into the kitchen to make some popcorn for a snack in the afternoon, and I had some very eager helpers. So eager that one little helper opened the bag of popcorn kernels and then proceeded to bend down to get the popcorn popper out of the lower cupboard with the open bag in hand. Well, I’m sure you can guess that this ended in half of the bag of kernels spilling all over the floor as well as inside the cupboard. I took a deep breath, thought about how unclean my kitchen floor was at the moment, and then had the idea that we could collect the kernels and make some beanbags out of them (I love it when I can get rid of some scraps of material!). So our next project is to pick out the material and sew them up. I also thought that it would be cool to make home made shakers with different things inside each for our impromptu musical singalongs – rice in one, corn in one, dried beans in one. The kids would love it and I’m sure would love the different sounds that they each would make.

I hope that these ideas have given you a bit of inspiration for creative solutions to parenting dilemmas. I know that I am going to try and think outside the box more when faced with everyday challenges. Creative parenting seems to make life go a little smoother, and that is something that I can appreciate!

 

Simplifying Life through Meal Planning

I must say that I wasn’t always a meal planner, and I still have my weeks where I do not practice this discipline – and those weeks I always do feel a little more stressed out during the day as I think about what I am going to make for dinner and if I have the correct ingredients to pull it off.

The way that I do meal planning is pretty simple, and it allows me to take advantage of certain sale items at the store, as well as save multiple trips to the store to pick up that “must-have” ingredient for  a recipe that I wouldn’t regularly buy.

So this is what I do: I look through the sale flyers for all of the local grocery stores and mark down those groceries that I will buy because we use them, and they are priced right. As noted in another blog, I price match. This means that my grocery list is quite detailed as it lists the store, and the page number where we can find the sale item quickly at checkout. Next, I look at our “Meals we Like” list which includes our favorite meals that we regularly eat and I decide what we are going to eat for the week, and then I fill in the missing ingredients for those meals that aren’t yet on the grocery list. This ensures that I will have everything I need for seven meals throughout the week, and I can anticipate each day what I need to do to prepare the meal for the day without any stress. Sometimes I pre-chop all of my veggies earlier in the day, other times I will put everything in the slow cooker in the morning and turn it on, and other days I will simply remove any frozen items from the freezer to ensure that they are ready for the night’s meal.

meals we like - a list

Some other benefits of meal planning:

-I try new recipes more often. When I’m making a meal plan for the week I very often will throw a new recipe in there that I have yet to try from one of my favorite cookbooks. For me, this makes cooking fun and keeps things from getting too predictable. Also, I think that it is good for my kids to be pushed out of their comfort zones to try new things. I will not have any picky eaters!

-I can look at our calendar for the week and strategically pick meals that fit in our schedule. This makes the week run a lot more smoothly.

-I can involve the kids! They often help me pick a couple of meals for the week, and they eagerly look forward to these meals. Sometimes we all write our own lists (the older two girls and I) and this helps the girls to practise sounding out words and writing their letters. I suppose that it also teaches them how to be organized in this area of running a household.

-It saves money. When I thoughtfully plan our menu I use less convenience items, more sale items, and I do more cooking from scratch and this saves money! (Okay, I almost always cook from scratch anyway BUT about once a week if I don’t have a menu I am at a loss for what to make and we go buy something that’s convenient in a pinch.)

There you have it, that is how I simplify life through meal planning. Do you meal plan? Do you have a different strategy? I would love to hear it!

Frugal and Happy Living

Yes it’s true – I am frugal. You might say that I am very frugal in fact. Thankfully my husband is a bit of a tightwad as well, which makes life easier as we tend to agree on financial decisions. We are pretty good at pinching pennies and living on one full time salary, so I thought that I would share some of our strategies for stretching every dime so that I can stay home with our beautiful girls.

Frugal Living Tip 1.

Price matching: I can go to our discount grocery store and show them any other grocery store price, and they will beat it by 1 cent. This is awesome! (Although the people in line behind me don’t always think so.) Before this store came to town, I faithfully drove to all 3 grocery stores to buy sale items. I should note that when price matching, one may only buy two of the same item – this brings me to my next point…

Frugal Living Tip 2.

Stocking up on sale items: When an item is on sale that we use, I try to stock up so that it will last until the next sale. For example, if peanut butter is normally on sale every 3 weeks, I will buy a 3 week supply (This may mean driving to the store where the sale is on to purchase more than 2 of that item).

Frugal Living Tip 3.

Only buy meat when it is on sale: I only buy meat when it is half price. I buy enough to last me for about a month, bring it home and package it in meal sized portions and freeze it (First I wrap it in saran wrap and then put it in a ziploc bag).

Frugal Living Tip 4.

Cook with small amounts of meat or eat vegetarian dishes: We seldom will eat a meat and potatoes meal. Stir frys, crock pot concoctions or casseroles are much easier on the pocketbook. I fill our meals with lots of yummy vegetables, and whole grains and legumes on our vegetarian nights.

Frugal Living Tip 5.

Cook and bake from scratch: Being at home gives me the time I need to make homemade granola, muffins, and freshly baked bread. I also can try out new recipes and make my own sauces, coatings, soup broths and salad dressings which saves so much money!

Frugal Living Tip 6.

Reuse, reuse, reuse!: The only time that I buy ziploc bags is in the summer when I go berry picking. I buy one box of bags to freeze the fresh fruit that I’ve picked, and these bags last at least the entire year, if not more. I use them and wash them each time and dry them on a utensil in the drying rack. We also don’t use any paper towels or paper napkins. We use old sweatshirts and socks for rags, and cloth napkins. We’ve even started to use soft flannel hankies for the kids when they have runny noses – this cuts down on our tissue consumption a lot.

Frugal Living Tip 7.

We rarely buy new clothes: We are very thankful that we receive clothes from a couple of families in our community that have girls a couple of years older than ours. What we aren’t given, we can usually find second hand at a thrift store, or a Mom2Mom sale. For the past year some of my girlfriends and I have been having seasonal “clotheswap” parties, where we all bring clothes that we no longer wear, or that don’t fit quite right any more. This is a great way to update my wardrobe at no cost, and it even lets me try a style that is a bit different than my normal look.

Frugal Living Tip 8.

We rarely eat out: This one speaks for itself. The cost of eating one meal out is equal to many healthy meals at home, so this is a rare luxury that I am happy to do without.

Frugal Living Tip 9.

We do most of our house renos ourselves: We bought a fixer upper that was within our budget, and we have been fixing it up ourselves. We have waterproofed the basement, rewired the entire house (under the supervision of an electrician), and taken down the chimney that was no longer needed (a pro took it down from the roof to the attic, we took it down in the house). And of course lots of painting, light fixtures, a built in bookcase, wainscoting and other details.

Frugal Living Tip 10.

Canning: I have begun canning – this not only saves money, but it is not very time consuming and yields a delicious end result that is quite satisfying. To date I have done peaches, pears, tomatoes and blueberry jam, and am hoping to expand this quite a lot this summer.

Frugal Living Tip 11.

Grow a vegetable garden: This past summer we began growing our own vegetables. It costs very little to buy seeds, and takes only a bit of work each day when we’re out in the yard to weed and maintain the garden. This saves a lot of money and means that we can enjoy fresh, pesticide free produce!

Frugal Living Tip 12.

Buy (or find) second hand furniture: When we need a new piece of furniture like a dresser for one of the kids, we either find one at a thrift store or better yet, on the side of the road (gasp!). Very often, it just needs a little TLC to spiff it up. A couple coats of paint and some new knobs and it looks beautiful.

Frugal Living Tip 13.

Mend: I use my well used sewing machine to mend clothes, as well as to use clothes that won’t mend well for other purposes such as doll clothes, a small bag, patches for other clothes or a quilt. Get creative!

Frugal Living Tip 14.

Make gifts: Although this can be time consuming, making a gift can save a lot of money and is very special for those on the receiving end. If you think you can’t do this, I don’t believe you. Many types of crafts are very simple, and can be learned by almost anyone (I do know that some of you are craft-challenged, but you are very few and far between).

Well, there you have it! Now you know a few of our secrets for being a happy, frugal family.
I would love to hear some of your money saving strategies or your frugal living tips!

The choice to stay home

The choice for me to stay home with the kids for us was a no brainer. Being home with our kids is a priority for us – we want to be the primary influence in our kids lives, we want to pour our love into them, and we want to enjoy them. They are growing up SO fast!!! Next month, our two older daughters will both be in school every other day, and I’ll have some special time with our youngest a couple of days a week. I really can’t believe where time has gone….

Right now my business is quite small, and I only work a few hours a week to fill orders and keep my stock up, and I am able to contribute a small amount each month towards our family’s income. I know that once all of the kids are in school that I’ll have more time to expand and increase sales and this is exciting, but I also love this time with the kids while they are small.

This choice isn’t always easy though, and the financial strain is one of the things that can be a challenge. Living primarily on one income means living on a very tight budget. This means telling people that we can’t do certain things like eating out (which is a luxury for us), going on expensive vacations (camping is our style anyway), or other activities that just aren’t in the budget. We very often tell the kids when we’re shopping and they ask for things that “it’s too much money”, or “it’s not on the list”. I have learned to clip coupons, read the flyers and price match, make my own soup broth and do all of my own gluten free baking from scratch. We eat only a small amount of meat, along with a healthy amount of legumes and whole grains, and we eat well.

Living on a budget can be challenging, but we’re used to it. We’re actually thankful for this challenge – it makes us appreciate the small things. When one of the girls needs a new pair of shoes and someone gives us a pair, we are thankful. When all of the clothes (and more) that we need for the kids are given to us by other families with older girls we are thankful. We are able to realize and see the way that God provides for all of our needs time and time again, and for this we are so thankful.

Living on a budget also helps us to figure out all of the fun free things to do in our community. There are lots of things to do with the kids that don’t cost a thing – storytime at the library, playing at the park and the splashpad, going to the early years centre, bikerides and walks. For us bigger people it isn’t quite so easy, but it makes us think outside of the box when we’re thinking up things to do. Ultimate frisbee, biking, running, going for walks – these are free things that we do on a regular basis and enjoy. We definitely enjoy a good board game with friends, and we both love to read and enjoy some tea in the evening.

In the end, it feels good to live simply, to know that we have all that we need and more, and most importantly to be there for our kids.

Avoiding the Plague of Materialism

As Christmas gets closer I can’t help but think about how to pass on to my children the things that my husband and I value. This includes valuing people over stuff, and not getting caught up in materialism.  How are we trying to avoid this?

Each year for Christmas we try to keep our focus on Jesus, and on others. We keep our gifts very simple, and try to give our kids homemade items – this year they are getting a puppet theatre. My husband is building the frame, and I will be sewing the curtains. I am excited for all of the puppet shows that will be happening in our home very shortly! I’m also making each of them a quilt for their beds – last year our oldest daughter got a bird quilt and this year our next daughter will be getting a flower quilt.

They also don’t watch any television with commercials at home (and a very limited amount of tv at all), and we don’t often go shopping which keeps them from seeing all of the different toys out there that they don’t yet have (we always find that when we leave a mall we always want things that we didn’t even think about before going).

We also talk a fair bit about how fortunate we are to have our basic needs met (like having a home to live in and food to eat), and about how many other people do not have these things. We talk about the responsibility we have of sharing what we have with others.

Even so I fear that with all of our efforts, just by raising them in North America with our culture’s affluence and abundance of “stuff”, they will become like the majority of people in our country (myself included) and think more about themselves and our too-busy lives than about others in need.  Lately I have been trying to make a conscious effort to put no worth in material things, and to focus on people and on loving them both directly and indirectly with all of my day to day choices, thoughts and deeds.

For those of you who share these values of living simply, caring for the poor and those in need, and of avoiding the plague of materialism – what are things that you do to pass these values on to your children?

Thanks for reading,

Karen